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How to Write Funny: Four Lessons in Marketing Humor From the Greatest Email Ever

Not that long ago, the greatest marketing email ever written popped into my inbox from BARK, a New York-based company. Its BarkBox and BarkShop brands sell dog toys and treats to the dog-obsessed.

The subject line read, "Chew your vitamins, pup."

And the copy read, in part, "We all have needs. That's why we have just the right supplement treats."

None of that was particularly funny. But the funny part came in the "customer profiles" the email highlighted. Each describes a creature matched with hilariously human qualities, and BarkBox then matches those profile qualities with a dietary supplement it sells.

There's neurotic Maris, who seriously needs to chill. Can you feel the alarm in those anxious little button eyes?

BarkBox says she might benefit from treats that contain 9mg of a supplement called Colostrum Calming Complex.

Meet Paula: Organized, efficient, more prepared than a Boy Scout.

Paula is that mom whose purse always has a snack in it and whose glovebox always houses a travel first-aid kit (which BarkShop also sells).

She's your go-to in any emergency—which she knows is going to happen, because life is a train wreck.

Or Cindy: Perky. Wouldn't miss her Zumba class. Promptly in bed by 11 because it's important to get a Solid 8 every night.

You know probiotics keep this girl as regular as the commuter rail.

Finally, there's Carl, the grandpa (grandpup?) of the group.

I just need to leave this photo here and let it speak directly to your heart.

Ah, Carl... CARL!

The lentil soup.

The pen.

The little fibs to his wife.

God I love Carl (and not just because I have a soft spot for senior dogs, especially my own almost-14-year-old girl, Abby.)

I picture this pudgy little pug wearing a cardigan as he sips his soup on the hottest day in July.

I imagine him doddering around the house, evading his wife's inquiries. I picture him with the TV turned up too loud.

* * *

But you don't sell dog products. You don't have Supermodel Carl as your talent. So how can you write funny marketing emails or messaging for your own business?

Let's break down some larger ideas you can steal from BarkBox and BarkShop.

1. Humor is based in truth. These customer profiles resonate because they're real. We all know a Maris. Or a Paula. Or a Carl. (CARL!)

The writeups might be silly, but they aren't cartoon fabrications: They feel palpable and true. They resonate because they're relatable.

2. Humor is truth, exaggerated to an absurd degree. BarkBox and BarkShop imagined dogs as people. With human ailments and anxieties. Living human lives (driving minivans; sipping lentil soup).

Then they brought the idea of "what if our pets were humans?" to its absurd, illogical conclusion.

3. Humor signals belonging. BARK sells to dog people. Not cat people. Not horse people. Not bird people or llama owners or people who own pot-bellied pigs. Dog people.

You might be thinking: This email isn't funny.

And if you are thinking that, you're probably not a dog person.

Dog people recognize in the email copy the loveable weirdos that are their own pets. In a broader sense, BARK is telling its customers that it understands just how full of personality and odd their little creatures truly are.

And it is also signaling something deeper: We understand pets, and we get you, too.

BarkBox and BarkShop know that their customers consider their dogs to be like their kids. They are members of the family. Their humans talk to them, make up voices for them, do whatever it takes to give their dogs happier and longer lives. The dogs are pampered, coddled, treasured, loved.

And finally:

4. Minivan is funnier than car. Choose your words carefully, because humor comes to life in the specific details.

Lentil soup is funnier than soup. Cardigan is funnier than sweater. A dog driving a minivan is funnier than a dog driving a car. "Tide stick" is funnier because it's specific. Zumba is funnier than dance class.

It's the details that paint the most vivid picture in your reader's heads.

* * *

So did the greatest email ever written ultimately inspire more than just admiration from me for its great marketing acumen?

Did Supermodel Carl actually trigger a sale, at least for my own Abby?

You bet it did.

I bought the hip and joint supplement for Abby. She still takes it today. I just asked her if it's made a difference. She looked at me pointedly over her eyeglasses with an arched brow and a long gaze that said, "Seriously? Is that a real question?"


  • by Peter Altschuler Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    This is not funny. Not even a little. Not even to dog people. It's descriptions of people illustrated with dogs in drag. Dogs that can't escape from a six-year-old who has a step stool in mom's closet and knows how to use it.

    Dogs' views of their owners might have potential -- like Cleo on "The People's Choice" ( -- but this doesn't meet the sniff test that any dog would stop for.

    Carl, 72. Hates vets and will not get in the car. Ever. Again. Exercises as much as his owner, which would be never. Bites turtles (they're all he can catch).

  • by Ann Handley Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Ah Peter... always nice to hear from you.

    I'm a dog person. And it's funny to me. So.

  • by Peter Altschuler Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    So... here's the thing, Ann. Funny can vary by country (which explains why the French like Jerry Lewis), but if something is only funny to dog people or cat people or Shriners, well... it's not following the rules. And one of those rules is that humor has to lead you in a comfortable direction and then take you somewhere unexpected. Ellen DeGeneres has mastered this.

    I've found myself on the loop-end of a leash multiple times, so I'm no stranger to the need for a steady supply of plastic bags because P&G doesn't make Pampers for Pooches or Gluvs (the quicker pooper upper). If you're going to highlight "humor from the greatest email ever," it should probably be something that isn't the greatest email for certain dog people ever.

    I'm just sayin'.

  • by Becky Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Oh, my goodness, Ann, this is an hilarious take on what I agree must have been the funniest email, ever!

    And what great information you so humorously packed in there!

    I assume you guessed I am a dog person, too. haha


  • by Beth G Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Loved this article! Not only informative, but funny in its own right. Thanks, Ann.

  • by Ann Handley Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Becky: I can tell you're a dog person. :D

    Beth: Thank YOU!

  • by Nanc Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Two thumbs up for canine-based marketing humor, info, and wisdom on behalf of my dog who has no thumbs, but did lick my tablet screen when I showed it to her which obviously means she liked it--or that I splashed soup on my tablet at lunch.

  • by Ann Handley Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Nanc: I'm choosing to believe it was the wit and wisdom of the BarkShop campaign. And not the soup. :D

    Thanks for swinging by!

  • by Mark Armstrong Fri Mar 16, 2018 via web

    Brilliant gagwriting, and a great example of humor being marketing's best friend. Loved your very perceptive analysis which says that humor is all about shared humanity, and that's why it pulls people in. Tim Washer has said that "Comedy is the most powerful way to humanize a brand because it demonstrates empathy," and that "if you can make someone laugh, that is the most intimate connection you can make." I couldn't agree more. And I really liked "Minivan is funnier than car"-- so true: humor succeeds or falls flat depending on word choices and other specific details. Great post, thanks.